Leaving Earth cover

Now out of print, I obtained from my original publisher the last thirty hardback copies of Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel in March. Ten of those last copies quickly sold for $50. I am therefore raising the price for these rare collectible items. The price now is $75, plus $5 shipping. To buy one, please send a $80 check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652
 

I will likely raise the price again before these sell out, depending on how fast the next few books sell. So, get them now before the cost goes up, and the last copies are gone!
 
Also available as an inexpensive ebook!
 

Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, is now available as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 

Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.

"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke
Scroll down for today's updates.

Stratolaunch for sale?

A report today says that the Stratolaunch company, including its giant airplane Roc, are up for sale.

Sources say Vulcan Inc. is looking to sell Stratolaunch, the space venture founded by the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen, and one report says the asking price could be as high as $400 million.

That price tag was reported today by CNBC, quoting unnamed sources who were said to be familiar with the discussions.

Vulcan had nothing new to say about Stratolaunch’s fate, which has been the subject of rumors for months. “Stratolaunch remains operational,” Alex Moji, manager of corporate communications at Vulcan, told GeekWire in an emailed statement. “We will provide an update when there is news to share.”

Since the sources are all anonymous, it is wise to not take the story too seriously. At the same time, it seems to fit with events since the death of Paul Allen.

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Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of makng the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Nearly 400 medical procedures found to be ineffective

The uncertainty of science: A new review of the science literature has found almost 400 studies showing the ineffectiveness of the medical procedure or device they were studying.

The findings are based on more than 15 years of randomised controlled trials, a type of research that aims to reduce bias when testing new treatments. Across 3,000 articles in three leading medical journals from the UK and the US, the authors found 396 reversals.

While these were found in every medical discipline, cardiovascular disease was by far the most commonly represented category, at 20 percent; it was followed by preventative medicine and critical care. Taken together, it appears that medication was the most common reversal at 33 percent; procedures came in second at 20 percent, and vitamins and supplements came in third at 13 percent.

A reversal means that the study found the procedure, device, or medicine to be ineffective.

If you have medical issues it is worth reviewing the research itself. You might find that some of the medical treatment you are getting is irrelevant, and could be discontinued.

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Update on development status of ULA’s Vulcan rocket

Link here. Overall the rocket seems to be on track for its planned April 2021 launch, except it appears ULA has decided to do that launch without two new components of the rocket that previously were planned, delaying their implementation.

First, it appears that Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine might not power the rocket’s first stage in its initial flights. It seems that both companies want that engine to first fly on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, whose first launch is not set until 2021 as well.

This delay in the engine’s use has me wondering whether ULA has gotten cold feet about Blue Origin and its engine. It certainly seems to me that progress at Blue Origin has slowed considerably in the past year. For example, they promised manned flights of New Shepard that did not happen, and testing on the BE-4 seems to have gone underground.

In fact, the combination of increased hype and lack of progress has made Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos remind me increasingly of Virgin Galactic and Richard Branson, that team of endless unmet promises.

Second, it appears ULA has given the recovery and reuse of Vulcan’s first stage engines a very low priority. The technique they had chosen was to have the engines separate from the tanks and return to Earth by parafoil, protected by an inflatable heat shield. However,

A technology demonstration payload for the inflatable heat shield, which could also be used to deliver payloads to the surface of Mars, is slated to fly as a rideshare payload with NOAA’s JPSS-2 satellite aboard an Atlas V launch no earlier than 2022. [emphasis mine]

In other words, that reusable technology probably won’t be operational until well into the 2020s. Vulcan will likely be completely expendable for at least the first five years of its use.

ULA apparently has decided to take the safe technology route. Financially secure because of a $1 billion Air Force development contract to pay for Vulcan, combined with the military’s obvious desire to favor them in the awarding of future launch contracts, the company doesn’t have any incentive to innovate in any way to lower costs.

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Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


 

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Behind The Black
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P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

Illegal acts in Justice Dept routinely given wrist-slap

The law is for the little people: A new inspector general report has found that Justice Department employees who are caught committing crimes are routinely allowed to get off without any punishment at all.

In cases closed in the past month, more than a half-dozen FBI, DEA, U.S. attorney and U.S. marshal officials were allowed to retire, do volunteer work, or keep their jobs as they escaped criminal charges that everyday Americans probably would not.

In most instances, the decisions were made by federal prosecutors who work with the very figures impacted by or committing the bad conduct. In local law enforcement, that go-easy phenomenon is known as the “thin blue line.”

Spokespersons for the Justice Department and FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

I remain very pessimistic we shall see anyone prosecuted in Washington for the clear attempt in the past two years to overthrow a legally elected president. I also expect this behavior to worsen in the coming years. The law no longer means anything to most of the people in power in Washington, and they are increasingly teaming up to use their power to defy the law for their own personal gain.

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Genesis cover

Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, and includes a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 
The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.
 

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs." --San Antonio Express-News

Oberlin hit with maximum punitive damages in slander case

The jury today hit Oberlin College with the maximum punitive damages allowed, $33 million (to be reduced to $22 million by law) for its slanderous attacks on a local bakery.

I suspect that the college can afford this hit, despite its pleading poverty to the jury during final deliberations. It also made clear in those deliberations its continuing lack of remorse for its slanderous behavior.

The second fact should inform every parent and high school nationwide: Oberlin is not a decent place to get a college education. If everyone makes that decision and enrollments dry up, the first fact above will become irrelevant, as the school will quite properly no longer exist.

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Communist wins election in Denver city council

The coming dark age: Denver voters have voted an outright communist, promising to create “community ownership” of property “by any means necessary,” to their local city council.

The winner, Candi CdeBaca, beat the incumbent 52.4 percent to 47.6 percent. Before the election she was very clear about her position and goals.

“I don’t believe our current economic system actually works. Um, capitalism by design is extractive and in order to generate profit in a capitalist system, something has to be exploited, that’s land, labor or resources,” CdeBaca alleged.

“And I think that we’re in late phase capitalism and we know it doesn’t work and we have to move into something new, and I believe in community ownership of land, labor, resources and distribution of those resources,” she continued. “And whatever that morphs into is I think what will serve community the best and I’m excited to usher it in by any means necessary.”

The real story here is the voters, not the candidate. She was very upfront about what she was proposing, and Denver voters apparently agreed with her. Nor is this the only example. American voters are increasingly choosing the Venezuela socialist/communist option, even though empirical evidence in numerous countries over the last century has shown such socialist/communist policies always fail, and they do so routinely in the most horrible way.

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Mexico deploys its national guard to its southern border

The Mexican government has begun deploying its national guard along its southern border in order to stem the tide of illegals entering its country aimed at reaching the U.S.

This is a major change from past Mexican policy, which previously had facilitated the movement of those illegals through its country so that they could reach the U.S. as easily as possible.

Mexico’s president is going to pay for this operation by selling his presidential plane for $150 million.

These actions are a direct result of the tariff deal Trump forced on Mexico last week. Though it is still unclear how much effect these actions will have, it is clear that Mexico wants the U.S. to believe it is now serious about stopping illegal immigration. The proof however will be in the pudding. The tariff deal gets reviewed in 90 days, and if the U.S. doesn’t see some real progress by Mexico in reducing illegal immigration through its country to the U.S., Trump has said he will then impose those tariffs.

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Hayabusa-2 completes close approach of target/manmade crater

Target on Ryugu's surface

Hayabusa-2 has successfully completed its close approach and reconnaissance of the positioning target it had placed on May 30 near the crater it had created on Ryugu on April 4.

The image to the right is the last navigational image taken at the spacecraft’s closest point. You can clearly see the navigational target as the bright point near the upper center of the image, to the right of the three larger rocks. This location also appears to be inside the manmade crater, based on earlier reconnaissance of that crater. The crater is in an area they have labeled C01, which is where they have successfully placed the target. It also appears that this is the smoothest area in C01, which will greatly facilitate their planned sample grab.

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China announces international experiments to fly on its space station

The new colonial movement: China and the UN today jointly announced the nine international experiments that China will fly on its own space station, set to be completed by 2022.

The nine projects involve 23 entities from 17 countries in the fields of aerospace medicine, space life sciences and biotechnology, microgravity physics and combustion science, astronomy and other emerging technologies.

It seems to me that the competition in space is definitely heating up. Both China and Indian now plan their own space stations. And the Trump administration’s announcement that it will allow private commercial and competitive operations on ISS, is certainly going to lead eventually to more than one private station in orbit, plus ISS.

The result is going to be many different stations, all offering different capabilities and all in competition to lower the cost to get there and to do research or to sightsee. All are also going to be contributing aggressively in learning how to build vessels that humans can live on for long periods, which in turn will teach us how to build interplanetary spaceships. In fact, every one of these stations will be prototypes for those interplanetary spaceships.

Isn’t competition wonderful? After almost thirty years of boring international cooperation on ISS, with little new achievement or innovation, the space station competition coming in the next decade will revitalize space exploration in ways we as yet cannot imagine.

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India to build its own space station

The new colonial movement: India announced yesterday that it is beginning design work on its own space station, with a plan to begin construction and launch following its first manned mission, dubbed Gaganyaan, in 2022.

Giving out broad contours of the planned space station, Dr. Sivan [head of India’s space agency ISRO] said it has been envisaged to weigh 20 tonnes and will be placed in an orbit of 400 kms above earth where astronauts can stay for 15-20 days. The time frame is 5-7 years after Gaganyaan, he stated.

The announcement came out of the first meeting of what ISRO calls its Gaganyaan National Advisory Council, designed to bring together people from India’s space industry to prepare for that first manned flight in 2022.

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Bigelow announces four tourist bookings to ISS using Dragon

Capitalism in space: The private space station company Bigelow Aerospace announced yesterday that it has booked four tourists to spend from one to two months on ISS.

The bookings will fly to ISS using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule. Though the company did not say how much these tourists have agreed to pay, it said that it intends to charge $52 million per ticket.

This announcement follows directly from NASA’s announcement last week that it will allow commercial tourist flights to ISS. Previously Bigelow had said it would fly tourists to its own space station using Boeing’s Starliner capsule. Now it is going to take advantage of NASA’s new policy to send the tourists to ISS, and it will use Dragon, probably because Dragon is closer to becoming operational.

I also suspect that Bigelow’s long term plans are to add its own hotel modules to ISS for these flights, and then later follow-up by building its own independent space station.

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OSIRIS-REx’s new orbit of Bennu only half mile high

OSIRIS-REx has moved into its next phase of research by lowering its orbit around the asteroid Bennu to only 2,231 feet above the surface.

Upon arrival at Bennu, the team observed particles ejecting into space from the asteroid’s surface. To better understand why this is occurring, the first two weeks of Orbital B will be devoted to observing these events by taking frequent images of the asteroid’s horizon. For the remaining five weeks, the spacecraft will map the entire asteroid using most of its onboard science instruments: the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA) will produce a full terrain map; PolyCam will form a high-resolution, global image mosaic; and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) and the REgolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS) will produce global maps in the infrared and X-ray bands. All of these measurements are essential for selecting the best sample collection site on Bennu’s surface.

The goal is to narrow to four the possible touch-and-go landing sites for grabbing a surface sample. They will pick the final choice in a reconnaissance phase now scheduled for the fall.

The present research phase will last until the middle of August, when they will raise the orbit slightly to give them a different perspective of its surface and the particles being released from it.

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India sides with Israel in UN for the first time

On June 6 the Indian government for the first time voted in support of Israel and its motion against a Palestinian non-governmental organization linked to jihadi terrorist groups.

The vote took place on June 6, just weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his allies won a two-thirds majority in the Indian general elections. Since Modi took office in May 2014, India has mostly abstained from voting on UN resolutions targeting the Jewish state but has shied away from siding with Israel at the international body.

…By backing Israel at the UN, Prime Minister Modi has finally broken away from the country’s historical voting pattern of siding with the Arab and Muslim countries.

Modi’s landslide election victory probably helped bring about this change of position. I also suspect that Trump’s decision to cut off funds from Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations, while moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, also made it easier for Modi to make this change. Trump has essentially said that the Palestinian emperor has no clothes (ie they are not interested in peace, only killing Jews), and this has allowed many others to chime in as well.

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New prediction for upcoming solar cycle

The uncertainty of science: A new prediction for the upcoming solar cycle, announced today, calls for a much weaker cycle then the general consensus of the solar science community.

The new prediction:

The forecast for the next solar cycle says it will be the weakest of the last 200 years. The maximum of this next cycle – measured in terms of sunspot number, a standard measure of solar activity level – could be 30 to 50% lower than the most recent one. The results show that the next cycle will start in 2020 and reach its maximum in 2025.

The consensus prediction:

[They] dutifully tabulate the estimates, and come up with a peak sunspot range: 95 to 130. This spells a weak cycle, but not notably so, and it’s marginally stronger than the past cycle. [They do] the same with the votes for the timing of minimum. The consensus is that it will come sometime between July 2019 and September 2020. Maximum will follow sometime between 2023 and 2026.

The main difference is that the consensus expects the next maximum to be weak but stronger than the maximum that just ended, while the new prediction says the next maximum will be the weakest in 200 years.

It has been my impression that there is unhappiness in the solar science community over the consensus prediction. I suspect today’s independent prediction is an indication of that unhappiness. The scientists involved in this research wanted to go on record that they disagree with the consensus.

I expect that NOAA will eventually put the consensus prediction on their monthly sunspot graph that I post here each month. If they do, I might also add this independent prediction so that we can compare the accuracy of the two as the next cycle unfolds.

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Hayabusa-2 making close approach of target/manmade crater

Ryugu during close approach

The Hayabusa-2 science team is right now conducting a close approach of the manmade impact crater they created to get a firm idea of exactly where the navigation target dropped to the surface during the last close approach landed.

The image on the right is the most recent navigation image, taken just a short time ago, and posted here in real time.

Once they have a precise location, they can then plan the touch-and-go sample grab within that man-made crater.

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The damp southern latitudes of Mars

Impact craters on the southern permafrost of Mars
Click for the full image.

Cool image time! The image on the right, cropped to post here, was part of the monthly image release from the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The release came with no caption, and was merely titled Aonia Terra, indicating that it was part of the vast cratered region ranging from 30 to 81 degrees latitude south of Valles Marineris.

These craters are at the high latitude of 73 degrees, so they are relatively close to the south pole. Based on what I have recently learned about the Martian poles, the higher the latitude the more water you will find saturated in the ground. In many ways one could refer to this ground as a kind of permafrost.

The lander Phoenix landed at about 68 degrees north latitude, slighter farther from the north pole, and was able to find water by merely scraping off a few inches of ground.

Thus, we should not be surprised by the muddy look of these craters. Their bolides landed on ground that was likely saturated with water, and went splat when they hit.

The scientific puzzle is why one crater seems to sit above the general surface, as if the ground resisted the impact, while the other seems to be mostly sunken, as if the ground was so soft that when the bolide hit, it sunk as if it landed on quicksand, leaving only a vague trace of an impact crater.

Don’t ask me for an explanation. I only work here.

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SpaceX successfully launches three Canadian radar satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX today has successfully launched three Canadian radar satellites.

The first stage, already flown once before, successfully landed at a very fog-shrouded Vandenberg.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

8 China
7 SpaceX
5 Russia
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 India

The U.S. leads China in the national rankings 12 to 8.

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China tightens rules for its private space companies

China has released new rules governing the work of that country’s private space companies, tightening its control over them.

[The rules] require companies to obtain official permission before carrying out rocket research and development as well as production, according to a notice published on the web site of the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense on Monday.

The new rules also require a confidentiality system to be established among commercial rocket companies and asks them to follow state export control regulations when in doubt about whether they can provide overseas services and products.

These rules really only codify the control the government has always had over Chinese private companies.

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Relativity leases manufacturing space from NASA

Capitalism in space: The smallsat company Relativity has leased a large manufacturing space at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi where it plans to build its Terran 1 rocket, set for first launch in 2020.

The Stennis center will eventually employ 200 engineers, nearly double the company’s current workforce of 90. The state of Mississippi offered a “significant” incentive package, the company said in a statement. “We’re reducing the human labor component significantly,” said Ellis, a veteran from Jeff Bezos’ space firm Blue Origin, referring to Relativity’s two-story-tall 3D printer arms named Stargate.

Stargate will enable the production of an entire rocket in under 60 days, said Ellis, who is looking to launch nearly two dozen a year in the next five years to prove the company’s production method.

Terran 1’s debut launch is expected in 2020, costing satellite makers $10 million per flight and carrying around 2,755 pounds (1,250 KG) to low earth orbit. That lands the company between U.S.-New Zealand competitor Rocket Lab, whose Electron rocket aims to send nearly 500 pounds to space for $5.7 million, and Cedar Park, Texas-based Firefly Aerospace Inc’s Alpha rocket, which is expected to loft 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) into low-Earth orbit at a cost of $15 million per flight.

The company has three launch contracts, but they won’t be real until they start launching. If their 3D printing approach works it will cut their costs significantly. Whether it will work or not remains an open question. The 3D printing work I’ve seen with other rockets raises questions about exactly how much of a rocket engine you can make in such a way.

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Museum decides T-Rex skeleton has no gender

The coming dark age: Officials at the Field Museum in Chicago have decided that since scientists were never able to determine the sex of their most famous T-Rex skeleton, they will now refer to it as if was gender neutral.

According to Arc Digital, “Sue,” Field Museum’s Tyrannosaurus Rex — one of the most complete and largest T-Rex skeletons ever discovered — is working on becoming a “gender neutral” icon by adopting gender-neutral pronouns in her new private exhibit on the museum’s second floor.

Sue is not, in fact, gender neutral or gender fluid. The T-Rex skeleton, discovered in South Dakota in the 1990s, was either male or female. The scientists who discovered Sue believed the skeleton belonged to a female because female T-Rexes are larger than male T-Rexes, and Sue was one of the largest dinosaur skeletons ever found; she’s named “Sue” after Susan Hendrickson, who led the team that unearthed her.

But back in March 2017, Arc Digital reports, the museum decided to have a little fun, and in response to a question lobbed during a Twitter Q&A, Sue claimed that she was “gender neutral” because her sex was unknown, and that she preferred the pronouns they/their/them.

By March 2017, though, Sue, who had graced the museum’s central rotunda for more than a decade, was due to move upstairs to make room for an even larger dinosaur skeleton, and when constructing her pernament home in the museum’s dinosaur exhibit, museum officials adopted Sue’s social media gender-neutral tendencies and made them official. “In her new suite, some of the signage describing the fossil has adopted non-binary pronouns,” Arc Digital says. “One sign does make the distinction between SUE the museum ambassador/Twitter star and the fossil itself, noting that the fossil is properly referred to as ‘it.’ But some of the rest of the signage uses ‘their’ pronouns and seems more interested in teaching museum-goers about the trendy movement for acceptance of non-binary identity than it does about paleontology.”

Our society is truly becoming delusional. This dinosaur was not gender neutral. It goes against every principle of science that a science museum is supposed to be teaching to make believe it is.

Worse, this is a form of political pandering that is disgraceful. It is not the job of the Field Museum to take sides in this sexual political battle. Not only is it inappropriate, it assumes all who enter the museum will agree with them, something that is decidedly a false assumption.

In a sane world I would expect donations to the museum to drop because of this. Unfortunately, I am not convinced we live in a sane world.

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First confirmed Ebola case in Uganda

Officials have now confirmed the first case of Ebola in Uganda since the present outbreak of the contagious disease in the Congo.

The confirmed case is a 5-year-old child from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who travelled with his family on 9th June 2019. The child and his family entered the country through Bwera Border post and sought medical care at Kagando hospital where health workers identified Ebola as a possible cause of illness. The child was transferred to Bwera Ebola Treatment Unit for management. The confirmation was made today by the Uganda Virus Institute (UVRI). The child is under care and receiving supportive treatment at Bwera ETU, and contacts are being monitored.

The Ministry of Health and WHO have dispatched a Rapid Response Team to Kasese to identify other people who may be at risk, and ensure they are monitored and provided with care if they also become ill. Uganda has previous experience managing Ebola outbreaks. In preparation for a possible imported case during the current outbreak in DRC, Uganda has vaccinated nearly 4700 health workers in 165 health facilities (including in the facility where the child is being cared for); disease monitoring has been intensified; and health workers trained on recognizing symptoms of the disease. Ebola Treatment Units are in place.

In response to this case, the Ministry is intensifying community education, psychosocial support and will undertake vaccination for those who have come into contact with the patient and at-risk health workers who were not previously vaccinated.

There also remain questions about how effective the vaccine is. It seems to work to protect from ebola, but only if you haven’t already become infected. Since the vaccine has not been fully tested, the real scientific questions remain.

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Leftist college loses big in court for slandering local bakery

Lawfare: A jury has awarded a local bakery $11 million against Oberlin College, a haven for modern leftist fascist thinking, for labeling the bakery racist because they called the police on three shoplifters.

In this case, a wholly innocent 5th-generation bakery was falsely accused of being racist and having a history racial profiling after stopping three black Oberlin College students from shoplifting. The students eventually pleaded guilty, but not before large protests and boycotts intended to destroy the bakery and defame the owners. The jury appears to have accepted that Oberlin College facilitated the wrongful conduct against the bakery.

I should have reported this when it happened last week but better late than never.

The trial is not over. The jury is now considering punitive damages, which could triple the total award.

Meanwhile, enrollment at Oberlin College has plummeted, likely due to its devotion to leftist bigoted agendas rather than educating its students. I hope the college goes out of business.

This legal case is similar to the defamation suits brought by Kentucky teenager Nick Sandman against the Washington Post, CNN, and NBC/MSNBC totaling more than 3/4 of a billion dollars. As in the Oberlin case, the left decided it had the right to slander Sandman, calling him a racist based on no evidence and in fact contrary to the obvious evidence available, merely for the sake of advancing its leftist agenda.

And like this case, I am hopeful the Post, CNN, and NBC/MSNBC will pay heavily. Someone has to make it clear to these people that such behavior is unacceptable in a civilized society, and if it will take lawsuits to do it, so be it.

Update: Oberlin College has asked for a mistrial so that the judgement of the jury would be dismissed.

Why would anyone send their kids to this school?

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Ghost dunes on Mars

A ghost dune
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The Mars Reconnaissance (MRO) science team today released a captioned image of several ghost dunes on Mars. The image on the right is cropped and reduced to highlight one of those ghosts, which the scientists explain as follows.

Long ago, there were large crescent-shaped (barchan) dunes that moved across this area, and at some point, there was an eruption. The lava flowed out over the plain and around the dunes, but not over them. The lava solidified, but these dunes still stuck up like islands. However, they were still just dunes, and the wind continued to blow. Eventually, the sand piles that were the dunes migrated away, leaving these “footprints” in the lava plain.

The location of these ghost dunes is inside the southeast edge of Hellas Basin, what I call the bottom of Mars.

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The big water volcano on Ceres

Scientists have proposed a new detailed model to explain the formation of the large mountain Ahuna Mons on the asteroid Ceres.

The new theory doesn’t change the generally accepted idea that this mountain is a ice volcano, formed by the rise of a brine from below. It simply provides some details about the process.

A study involving scientists from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) has now solved the mystery of how Ahuna Mons, as the mountain is called, was formed, using gravity measurements and investigations of the geometrical form of Ceres. A bubble made of a mixture of salt water, mud and rock rose from within the dwarf planet. The bubble pushed the ice-rich crust upwards, and at a structural weak point the muddy substance, comprising salts and hydrogenated silicates, was pushed to the surface, solidified in the cold of space, in the absence of any atmosphere, and piled up to form a mountain. Ahuna Mons is an enormous mud volcano.

The bubble would be the equivalent of a magma chamber of lava here on Earth.

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